Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Intern Eden Meets the Muralists

The following blog was originally published over at our Profesisonal Immersion Program (PIP) blog, Inside the Interns Studio.

My name is Eden Neuendorf; I’m an artistic department intern at Cal Shakes. I attended the Meet the Muralists event on Saturday, June 26, after the 2pm matinee of John Steinbeck's The Pastures of Heaven.

It was a very hot day, but quite a few patrons stuck it out to listen to Salinas' José Ortiz (pictured below right in a photograph by Jay Yamada) and six of young muralists of Hijos del Sol describe the Pastures mural in the plaza, titled Las Pasturas del Cielo. People were very attentive while José spoke about the mural and his process, even applauding after the answer to a question from the audience. Many patrons stayed after the talk had ended just to ask more questions and to personally thank José and the boys. Patrons seemed very grateful of and amazed by the work.

What most interested me was to hear about the strong connection José and his students felt after reading Pastures of Heaven, and about how they felt a mural was the best way to present that connection to the stories. José gave a brief description of each story depicted in the mural, and also gave the illustrators a chance to say what part of the mural they had worked on. José said they all fought over the painting of Tularecito, because as painters they all connected closely with that story. It was also one of their favorite parts of the play. It was so amazing to hear how much these young artists connected to the story.

During the talk I was struck by the depiction of the sunset at the very far right side of the mural (photographed below by Paul Doyle). I’ve seen the mural so many times, but for some reason this was the first time I really saw the sunset. But Saturday afternoon, the picture and José’s description of the artist's intent really spoke to me. The sunset was painted with different shades of grays, which aren’t the colors you typically think of when you think about a sunset. They were trying to depict the Salinas sunset, ending the mural's story with lots of grays and just a glimmer of color and hope. This is how they interpreted the end of Pastures of Heaven. It’s beautiful; I’m thankful I was finally able to see it and to fully appreciate it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Conservatory Teachers: Silver and Gold

The classic Girl Scout song proclaims, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold”. This applies to our Summer Shakespeare Conservatory family as well, and not just the kids—teachers, too! There are our golden (and much-loved!) Teaching Artist pals like Susannah Martin and Wendy Wisely who, between them, have 15 years teaching experience with Cal Shakes campers. And for 2010 we've welcome several exciting new artists into the Conservatory troop.

Lisa Tateosian (pictured at right) comes to us by way of Contra Costa Jewish Day School, where she teaches drama. Since getting her Master’s in educational theater at NYU, Lisa has been putting her skills to good use, specializing in choreography and dance-theater. She will be directing A Winter’s Tale and teaching acting classes for our Five-Week Conservatory in Lafayette.

Kai Morrison (pictured at left) has been wielding swords and other stage weaponry for many years, and enjoys passing his love for fight choreography on to the next generation. When we began to expand our summer offerings and needed additional stage combat instructors, longtime Conservatory director Dylan Russell suggested we contact Kai. He has shaped the fights in Dylan’s San Francisco high school productions, and performs (and fights) onstage himself, most recently in Giant Bones at the EXIT Theater. Kai will be teaching at our programs in Oakland and San Francisco.

Hope Mirlis (pictured at right) was introduced to us through Teaching Artist Organized, a Bay Area collective of arts specialists who come together to share best practices and gain professional development. A movement expert with an MFA from UC Davis, Hope co-founded Synchronicity Performance Group in Atlanta which focused on community engagement, women artists, and new work. She will keep our young performers on their toes teaching movement at our two-week programs in the East Bay.

We are beside ourselves with excitement now that our talented friends, new and old, have started coming together for what's sure to be an awesome summer of training, performance, and general good theater times. For more information on our Summer Shakespeare Conservatories, click

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Amy blogs the last week of PASTURES.

Nearly three years. That's how long I have been involved in the collaboration which ends its first life this coming week. I have been immersed in Pastures for these last weeks, doing my work while performing, but also letting it have free reign through all my quiet time, my half-awake time, what I call my dream-time, when so many ideas come to me, things to try during the next performance. My body changed over these weeks. I am stronger now than I was on May 1. I know, because I can get up off that platform during the tantrums so much faster that I have time now to see Julie, to focus my rages at her, to send her scurrying out of my line of sight (whereas before...I was just working on getting the heck up off the floor!) Also, I know, because the pillows I fling seem to go so far sometimes if I am not careful...backstage crew says they are taking bets about whether or not I'll heave the mattress off the platform after the pillows one night...well, maybe closing? Wouldn't that be fun?!

My experience at the Bruns has been intimate, and expansive, and has stretched me in ways that feel so good, like oiling a creaky joint. And now comes the last week of sharing these stories with an audience. Here lies the rub. How to gently let it go. I always feel as though doing theater is like filling up the gas tank of my soul. I suppose because of my home circumstances, which only allow me to do theater work every so often, I may never feel that professional detachment I see in other actors, which I imagine they use most when the time comes to let the experience go. I will miss Cal Shakes in a personal way, all you in Admin, and Box Office, and backstage, and the interns, and the artists. Jon and Octavio. I will miss my castmates...all the love and chicanery...and most of all I will miss my characters. They have been my constant companions and now will have to be folded away and put in the memory box with the script, the book, the reviews, and some hairpins from Miss Martin's wig. Phillipa Kelly asked if I would come back to work again at Cal Shakes; yes, I would. It is a truly special family, and I am grateful to have shared this experience with you all.


Pictured above: Julie Eccles and Amy Kossow as Helen and Hilda van Deventer, respectively, in John Steinbeck's The Pastures of Heaven; photo by Jay Yamada.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

You never know how much kissing is really going on in a show until you play it for adolescents.

The first Student Discovery Matinee of the year was yesterday morning, for John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven. We had about 420 people in the house, the majority of whom were from under-served Oakland middle and high schools. Two of those schools had also had a Pastures residency this spring in which they studied and dramatized stories from the book. The students were an excellent audience, and proved themselves respectful and interested for the entire show—and, as usual, there was a lot of vocal response! I tell you, you never know how much kissing is really going on in a show until you play it for adolescents! The Tularecito story seemed particularly interesting and affecting to this audience—their reaction was to laugh at first, and then were drawn in to his real sweetness, and were very quiet when he was sent to the asylum. The Tortilla Sisters won applause, and the flash-paper fire was also a hit, of course.

In the Question and Answer session afterward, some usual questions came up such as “How long did you rehearse?”, “Have any of you been on TV?,” as well as “What was your favorite character to play?” and “How do you practice for hard roles like Tularecito?” This last one gave Tobie (Windham, pictured at right as Tularecito, with Emily Kitchens as Miss Morgan; photo by Jay amada) a chance to elaborate on how stepping into someone else’ shoes really helped him understand someone with development difficulties, since it’s so easy from the outside to think they are just really strange. The other very interesting thing that came up was that the character of Raymond Banks says about going to see an execution, “I think it’s a Mexican this time.” When that line was said, there was an audible gasp in the audience, which was of mostly Latino origin. One boy asked, “Why was that a joke?” Actor Catherine Castellanos said that she didn’t think it was a joke, but that the character said it in a way that might have seemed disrespectful because of the time period in which these stories are set, and that people were viewed very much by whatever easily perceived characteristic they had, be it race, or anything else and hopefully we are a lot better at being respectful of everyone now.

Ava Jackson and Clive Worsley were the stars of the hour, making everything run great and be fun at the same time; the PIPs were all enthusiastic and did great with their groups, and being in the new space was pretty amazing backstage and front. (Sorry, I know we go on and on about the bathrooms, etc., but Artistic Learning really got the advantage of all this today!)

Thanks to everyone who makes this kind of thing happen; we are so proud that we can provide this incredible opportunity to get young people in to see great actors, in a great play, in a great space. Wow.

Click here for more information on our Student Discovery Matinees. John Steinbeck's The Pastures of Heaven runs through June 27.